Pay no attention to the huge machine tool behind..

This fascinating post, part of a series on Chinese manufacturing that’s been picked up by BoingBoing, seems to be missing one very significant point. Yes, it’s all very cool; precision-machining billets of cold steel into incredibly perfect moulds that will be used to injection-mould the Chumby, blasting off the rough edges with an electron gun, then polishing them by hand.

But there’s nothing Chinese about that honking gurt machine tool; it’s a Röders TEC RP800, as in Röders GmbH, a 210-year old family metalworking firm from Soltau that boasts it’s both a leader in high-speed routing (the kind with steel bits, not digital ones..) and also a manufacturer of kitchenware favoured by the Bauhaus. They started making the machine tools for their own use, but developed it as a line of business after inventing a guidance mechanism that permitted them to work around 100 times faster. They also make moulds in China on a line of their own machines, in order to deliver to manufacturing clients there quickly; a curious invertion of the recent trend to bring textile manufacturing back closer to European or North American markets, in order to turn around new designs faster.

The Mittelstand, clearly, endures: even if the idea of handing over the company to the 29-year old heir might take some swallowing, Warsteiner beer probably won’t.